Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Bad Day at the Globe When Props Go Wrong


A cannon during a performance ignited the Globe Theater's thatch roof

Folks who have been involved in theater, amateur or professional, love to swap yarns about various disasters in front of live audiences.  Ask me sometime about when the set fell on my head in the middle of Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders at Shimer College. 
But even the most grizzled theatrical veteran would have a hard time topping what happened to the cast of Henry VIII on June 29, 1613.  During a performance a cannon sparked a fire in the Globe Theater’s thatched roof, burning the structure to the ground.  Fortunately no one was seriously injured, although one actor was said to have suffered an indignity to his pants. 
The Globe, of course, was the famous London theater where William Shakespeare had most of his plays produced and where he appeared in many of them as an actor.  Henry VIII is today one of The Bard’s less produced plays, both because of the liberties taken with the well known historical facts of Henry’s reign and because of suspicion that it was either co-authored or heavily tinkered with by another Globe playwright, John Fletcher.   
The Globe was constructed from timbers of an earlier venue known simply as The Theater in 1599.  It was built on leased land and when the lease was up, the landlord claimed the building, which was owned by an association of actors.  To retrieve their property the actors hired a carpenter, Peter Street and joined him in disassembling the building in December of 1598 while the landlord was celebrating Christmas in the country.  The material was hidden until the next summer when it was floated across the Themes and the new theater constructed on marshy ground south of Maiden Lane.  
The only known near contemporary illustration ot the Globe theater by Wenceslas Hollar in 1642.
The new building evidently substantially re-created the original, although it may have been enlarged.  The Globe was owned originally by six actors who were shareholders in the theatrical troupe The Lord Chamberlain’s Men.  One of the six was a minority share holder, Will Shakespeare himself.  The building was an open air amphitheater about 100 feet in diameter contained in a building three stories high.  Although described as The Wooden O and portrayed in the only contemporary sketch, by Wenceslas Hollar, archeological evidence now suggests that it may have been a twenty-sided structure. 
Three levels of stadium stile boxes were protected under an over-hanging thatched roof were built on to the interior walls.  Surrounding an apron stage about 43 by 27 feet and raised five feet was a large open area where groundlings paid a penny to stand and watch performances while their betters lounged in the boxes.  As many as 3000 people could be jammed into the theater, which was one of London’s most popular places of amusement. 
The design of the theater was believed to mimic the inn courtyards where traveling theatrical troupes performed in earlier days. 
Shakespeare had retired by the time the second Globe was erected, but his plays remained a staple of the resident company.
Shakespeare himself at about age 50 seems to have retired from active involvement in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men about the time of the fire, and perhaps because of it.  When a second Globe was erected on the foundation of the first in 1614 he seems to be gone, although his plays continued to be revived as the source of most of the troupe’s material.  He died in his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1616. 
The new Globe continued on until something even more deadly than fire befell it—Puritans.  It was closed by order of the Cromwell government in 1642 and probably razed two years later to make way for tenements.  
Dominic Rowan and Kate Duchene perform as the King and Queen Katherine in Henry VIII at Shakespeare's Globe. This time the place did not burn down.
In 1997 Shakespeare’s Globe, a modern reproduction of the first theater, opened a few yards from the original site and regularly produces plays from the Shakespeare cannon.  Eight years ago during a cycle of all of the Bard’s history plays Henry III received a rare revival there.  This time the cannon fired safely.  Everyone was relieved.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Tree With the Dinner Plate Leaves

Catalpa at dawn on the Murfin estate--manor house to the right.


Note:  Not much has changed since this ran four years ago.  Except the tree got bigger, much bigger. Its branches have overtaken the old bird feeder making it far too easy for the squirrels to reach on their relentless marauds and has had to be removed.  The boughs stretch almost to the sidewalk alongside the house and the crown now towers over our roof.  Meanwhile other investments in the future have been made in the yard.  A volunteer maple seedling that sprang up in an inconvenient spot was transplanted to the boulevard along Ridge avenue four years ago by my grandson.  Nick’s tree is now thriving and taller than me.  Three years ago Kathy planted a foot high spruce out by the garage to replace the towering 40 footer that blew over in the big storm a few years ago. It is now filled out and also taller than me, its bright green new growth shoot still growing practically by the minute.   We might not last too long, but with luck our living legacies will grace the lives of whoever comes after.

Nick's tree.

My wife Kathy and I enjoy watching birds at a feeder and bath outside the kitchen window of our extremely humble abode in Crystal Lake, Illinois.  

The great American elms that once shaded that side yard succumbed to disease and were removed more than twenty years ago leaving the yard sun-parched on hot summer afternoons.  So we wanted to plant a tree near the feeder to help attract birds and eventually shade the house.

One Sunday maybe ten years ago I came home with a stick barely thicker than my thumb and maybe two feet tall.  It was allegedly a catalpa tree.  We planted that stick a few feet from the bird feeder.  And we waited.

After the first year when just two brave twigs emerged from the stick, you could actually see the damn thing grow day by day

I like to bend a branch down and show visitors the two or three sets of new leaves nestling like Russian dolls inside the wreath of earlier growth at the tip of a green shoot which has grown several inches in the less than a month since buds first appeared after a late cool spring.  The tree could grow another foot or more in all directions this year before the season ends.

Kathy's blue spruce.
The tree now looms much higher than the peak of the roof of our ranch house, its numerous branches thick with heart shaped leaves the size of a dinner plates, its trunk the girth of a sturdy elephant’s leg.   It shades the kitchen window now in the fierce late afternoon sun as I watch the birds from that window. 

Right now the tree is getting ready to burst with clusters of white flowers.   In the fall it will develop long thin, bean like pods which will cling to the bare tree over the winter finally dropping one by with the new growth next spring

A lot of folks think of catalpas as virtual weed trees because of the litter of dropped pods and because those enormous leaves do not get brightly colored in the fall, but slowly fade to an ugly olive green, wither and drop when decent trees are already bare.  A lot of folks think that those things make it a hassle and a nuisance.  

Most people prefer the slow growing oak or a more vigorous maple.  They have their charms as well.  Planting an oak is a ticket into the future, a legacy.  Its eventual shade may not be as intense, but it will spread even further.  The sturdy trunk will withstand gales that would break or uproot the catalpa.  And, if left undisturbed, it will stand for centuries after stump of the short-lived catalpa has rotted away.

Those dinner plate size leaves and flowers.
But I gain enormous satisfaction and a peculiar connection to nature watching that odd, weed of a tree.

So what will it be—oak or catalpa?  Fortunately we don’t have to choose, there’s room for both.  But if I was thinking of my grandchildren, I should plant an acorn—and soon.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Stonewall—The Night the Queers Fought Back

The Stonewall was a dive bar operated by the Mob in New York's Greenwich Village.  It's patrons were outcasts and the most flamboyant of a rough streets scene--young hustlers, drag queens, butch lesbians.  It was also an inter-racial scene all of it attracted police attention.  Wealthier and more respectable Gays gathered and partied more discretely in posh clubs that authorities usually ignored.


On the night of June 27, 1969 something snapped when New York City Police made one of their regular raids on a Gay bar.  Instead of meekly submitting to arrest, the denizens  of the Stonewall Inn, a Greenwich Village bar operated by the Mafia and patronized by the most marginalized of folkshomeless street kid hustlers, drag queens, butch dikes, and others resisted when police started to arrest them. 
The raid was conducted by a small team of detectives, uniformed officers including women led by Deputy Inspector Seymour Pine of the Public Morals Squad. 
For some reason patrons refused to follow the familiar procedure of such raids—allowing restroom inspections of individuals in women’s clothing to determine if they were men and providing identification upon requestDumfounded by resistance, police called for backup and patrol wagons.  There was some scuffling inside.  
The Stonewall in looked just as seedy as it was.
Meanwhile some patrons who had been released were joined by passersby outside the bar.  The crowd quickly swelledTaunts and jeers were exchanged between the police and crowd.  The crowd began to interfere as drag queens were led to the wagons.  When a lesbian made several unsuccessful attempts to escape, she was beaten and cried out to the crowd, “Why don’t you guys do something?” 
That ignited the crowd which began pelting police with beer cans, coins, and rubble from a nearby construction sight.  They attacked the wagons, freeing some of those arrested.  Police retreated into the bar and barricaded themselves.  They grabbed some members of the crowd as they went, including folk singer Dave Van Ronk who had been playing at a nearby club and came out to investigate the ruckus, and Howard Smith, a writer for the Village Voice. 
When a lesbian named Betty repeatedly tried to break away from custody and was roughly handled by several cop she famously pled, "Why don't you guys do something?"  It became the Remember he Alamo battle cry of a movement.
Observers reported that the most aggressive members of the crowd were the young street kids.  They used an uprooted parking meter as a ram to try and break down the doors of the bar and crashed through the plywood covered windows.  When they got in police drew their pistols and threatened to shoot while rioters used lighter fluid to start a fire
The Fire Department responded as the crowd outside grew to hundreds.  The Tactical Police Force (TPF) arrived in riot gear to rescue the besieged officers in the saloon.  They formed a phalanx and moved up the street being blocked and taunted by an impromptu kick line of drag queens and “sissies.”  
Drag queens played a leading role in the resistance after the police raid in the the nights that followed.
Rioters and police played a brand of violent tag around the narrow streets of the Village until after 4 AM. 
Later that morning the riots were front page news
And they were not over.  The next night even larger crowds gathered in front of the building and fighting continued.  Despite heavy rain there were sporadic eruptions the next two nights
Meanwhile the Gay community, which had been largely unorganized except for the small Mattachine Society which advocated a campaign to educate the public that Homosexuals were “normal,” began to meet and debate tacticsThousands of fliers were printed for a Wednesday march
The original rebellion, which had been entirely spontaneous, was already laying the groundwork for a new, open and defiant Gay movementTaking cues from the Civil Rights Movement and the Peace Movement, which were also confronting authorities with a new militancy, and taking advantage of the traditional anti-establishment radicalism of the Village, the beginning of a new movement was taking place. 
On Wednesday the Village Voice—the most liberal paper in New York, carried a harshly critical piece on the riots describing participants as “forces of faggotry.”  Angry demonstrators descended on the Voice offices that night and threatened to burn them down.  Other violent confrontations erupted in the neighborhood as police tried to stop marchers, this time for the first time carrying signs and “making demands.”  
That was the last night of disturbances, but things changed quickly over the next year.  Two new militant Gay organizations emerged in New York, the Gay Liberation Front, which allied itself with the broader radical movement, and the Gay Activists Alliance which advocated a focused campaign demanding an end to police harassment and for broader rights for Gays
Similar or allied groups sprang up in major cities and college towns across the country.  New Yorkers founded three new newspapers, Gay, Come Out!, and Gay Power which soon had press runs to 20-2500.  Again, similar publications were founded across the country.  
The Christopher Street March on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion is considered the founding event of the Gay Pride marches now held internationally.
On June 28, 1970 the anniversary of what was now being called the Stonewall Rebellion was marked by Christopher Street Liberation Day and a 51 block march from the Village to Central Park with thousands of marchers filling the streets.  Marches were also held in Chicago and Los Angeles. 
These became the Gay Pride Marches that have become annual events across the country.  There was a huge march this Sunday in Chicago.  An indication of how accepted and mainstream Gay rights have become, at least in big cities, is that there were official floats sponsored by the city’s sports teams. Politicians galore and all of the major media turn out to court the potent Gay vote and consumer demographic.  But there were still loads drag queens and all of the high camp fun that the carnival-like parades have become known for.
Resistance was a theme at many Gay Pride marches this year like this one in Los Angeles.
But this year Gay Pride Parades  also reflected a community increasingly under siege by a well-oiled and funded backlash led by religious zealots and abetted by the radicalized Republican Party eager to pander to a big part of its base.  With Republicans in complete control of many governorships and State houses rafts of anti-Gay legislation have been enacted or proposed. 
And now the Cheeto-in-Charge, who in an earlier incarnation had proclaimed himself a “friend of the Gays,” has lent his full blather and bluster to stoking the fires of repression.  He let Gay Pride Month pass without even the most tepid acknowledgement but pointedly spoke to a meeting of an ardently anti-Gay religious group.  He also signed an Executive Order supposedly in support of religious liberty that gives free reign to churches, charities, businesses, and individual professionals and crafts people to discriminate against Gays in almost every way.  Hell, it virtually invites them to do so.  Internationally Trump had refused to protest and seemed to endorse his pal Vladimir Putin’s increasingly violent suppression of Gays in Russia and practically endorsed the even more extreme repression by Turkey which is rapidly turning into a right wing Islamic dictatorship.  His proposed budget stripped funding from HIV/AIDS research and he supports the Senate Republican health care bill that will strip coverage to many.
So it was not a surprise that in the midst of the usual party, floats and marching units spoke out.  Or that in several cities outright protests broke out around or in the parades.  48 years after the fact Pride Month has returned to its roots—Resistance!